Bette Davis, smoking. Photo: STF/AFP/Getty Images
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I only have the occasional fag and I don’t long for nicotine – it’s the society of smoking that I crave

Smoking for David? It could only be Hockney. Smoker extraordinaire, and not a bad painter either.

I find smoking quite useful. This may be why one of my best friends says I am the most useless smoker she knows. I can’t distinguish between one kind of fag and another. I can barely keep them alight and only ever have the odd one. It must be annoying. Sure, I had a proper go at 14, but when I got home after a quick puff on the bus my mum said: “Here you are. I’ve got you a lovely silver cigarette case. And here are 40 fags. I don’t want you spending your dinner money on it.”

Immediately, much of the thrill was gone. Now that smoking is becoming more and more verboten, though, I long for something to replace it. Not the fags – it’s established that I don’t know one end from the other and have often been found trying to light the filter. No, I want something to replace the society of smoking.

I know that when you get hypnotised you have to unthink this stuff and imagine that smoking is deeply uncool. But that is not my experience. In fact, I can’t imagine surviving in newspapers years ago without regular trips to the smoking room.

Often it may have been disgusting but it was really the only place where hierarchies collapsed over a spare Silk Cut and you got to find out what was actually happening.

This was especially true when I went to work at the Independent in the Nineties, having been wooed by Andrew Marr’s idea of no news on the front page, something I totally believed in at the time. In those volatile years I found great solace in the smoking area.

But on a trip to San Francisco, it was obvious which way the wind was blowing. Even if you were sitting outside a restaurant, people 20 yards away would complain about a stray bit of smoke.

Waiting at the airport to go home, I was approached by a rather fine gentlemen. “Come on, darling, let’s go and have a fag for David. You know David, don’t you, darling?”

Smoking for David? It could only be Hockney. Smoker extraordinaire, and not a bad painter either. I had indeed once phoned him many years earlier and made him write something for me and was awed by his kindness.

This guy turned out to be an old friend of Hockney’s and the finest company in the world. So we stood outside in the sun as he talked of all the parties at David’s house.

This really was the best smoking ever. When we got on the plane he got us champagne: for his “medical condition”, as he could only drink macrobiotic drinks.

At Heathrow, however, we were pulled over.

“What’s in your suitcase?” a customs officer asked him.

“Nothing, darling,” he said. “Just some Betty Crocker Blueberry Muffin Mix and some extremely hardcore pornography.”

No one knew what to say, so we kept walking. Out into the cold air for a goodbye fag.

Suzanne Moore is a writer for the Guardian and the New Statesman. She writes the weekly “Telling Tales” column in the NS.

This article first appeared in the 27 March 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Easter Double 2015

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On civil liberties, David Davis has become a complete hypocrite – and I'm not sure he even knows it

The Brexit minster's stance shows a man not overly burdened with self-awareness.

In 2005, David Davis ran for the Tory leadership. He was widely assumed to be the front-runner and, as frontrunners in Tory leadership campaigns have done so enthusiastically throughout modern history, he lost.

The reason I bring up this ancient history is because it gives me an excuse to remind you of this spectacularly ill-judged photoshoot:


“And you're sure this doesn't make me look a bit sexist?”
Image: Getty

Obviously it’s distressing to learn that, as recently as October 2005, an ostensibly serious politician could have thought that drawing attention to someone else’s boobs was a viable electoral strategy. (Going, one assumes, for that all important teenage boy vote.)

But what really strikes me about that photo is quite how pleased with himself Davis looks. Not only is he not thinking to himself, “Is it possible that this whole thing was a bad idea?” You get the distinct impression that he’s never had that thought in his life.

This impression is not dispelled by the interview he gave to the Telegraph‘s Alice Thompson and Rachel Sylvester three months earlier. (Hat tip to Tom Hamilton for bringing it to my attention.) It’s an amazing piece of work – I’ve read it twice, and I’m still not sure if the interviewers are in on the joke – so worth reading in its entirety. But to give you a flavour, here are some highlights:

He has a climbing wall in his barn and an ice-axe leaning against his desk. Next to a drinks tray in his office there is a picture of him jumping out of a helicopter. Although his nose has been broken five times, he still somehow manages to look debonair. (...)

To an aide, he shouts: “Call X - he’ll be at MI5,” then tells us: “You didn’t hear that. I know lots of spooks.” (...)

At 56, he comes – as he puts it – from “an older generation”. He did not change nappies, opting instead to teach his children to ski and scuba-dive to make them brave. (...)

“I make all the important decisions about World War Three, she makes the unimportant ones about where we’re going to live.”

And my personal favourite:

When he was demoted by IDS, he hit back, saying darkly: “If you’re hunting big game, you must make sure you kill with the first shot.”

All this, I think, tells us two things. One is that David Davis is not a man who is overly burdened with self-doubt. The other is that he probably should be once in a while, because bloody hell, he looks ridiculous, and it’s clear no one around him has the heart to tell him.

Which brings us to this week’s mess. On Monday, we learned that those EU citizens who choose to remain in Britain will need to apply for a listing on a new – this is in no way creepy – “settled status” register. The proposals, as reported the Guardian, “could entail an identity card backed up by entry on a Home Office central database or register”. As Brexit secretary, David Davis is the man tasked with negotiating and delivering this exciting new list of the foreign.

This is odd, because Davis has historically been a resolute opponent of this sort of nonsense. Back in June 2008, he resigned from the Tory front bench and forced a by-election in his Haltemprice & Howden constituency, in protest against the Labour government’s creeping authoritarianism.

Three months later, when Labour was pushing ID cards of its own, he warned that the party was creating a database state. Here’s the killer quote:

“It is typical of this government to kickstart their misguided and intrusive ID scheme with students and foreigners – those who have no choice but to accept the cards – and it marks the start of the introduction of compulsory ID cards for all by stealth.”

The David Davis of 2017 better hope that the David Davis of 2008 doesn’t find out what he’s up to, otherwise he’s really for it.

The Brexit secretary has denied, of course, that the government’s plan this week has anything in common with the Labour version he so despised. “It’s not an ID card,” he told the Commons. “What we are talking about here is documentation to prove you have got a right to a job, a right to residence, the rest of it.” To put it another way, this new scheme involves neither an ID card nor the rise of a database state. It’s simply a card, which proves your identity, as registered on a database. Maintained by the state.

Does he realise what he’s doing? Does the man who once quit the front bench to defend the principle of civil liberties not see that he’s now become what he hates the most? That if he continues with this policy – a seemingly inevitable result of the Brexit for which he so enthusiastically campaigned – then he’ll go down in history not as a campaigner for civil liberties, but as a bloody hypocrite?

I doubt he does, somehow. Remember that photoshoot; remember the interview. With any other politician, I’d assume a certain degree of inner turmoil must be underway. But Davis does not strike me as one who is overly prone to that, either.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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